Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sarah Crosby's "The Black and White"

There appears to be a bird theme in this issue of Fourth Genre, birds showing up in both Jenny Boully's essay as well as this one. What I really dig about this piece is that from the get-go we are thrown into a world that is far weirder than we expected: "More often than not, when a bird flies into a window, it doesn't die from a broken neck." Okay. We start here and move quickly into some dead bird info, then into the ground situation, the real occasion for the essay, which our essayist craftily doubly buries a page or two into the essay:

"The dead bird that was in my freezer until recently didn't technically die from colliding with a window."

then into the past, the context for the essay and the author's admittedly odd (to us) interest in the subject:

"My father is a bryologist, a collector of mosses, and my mother was the daughter of a bryologist, so the impulse to accumulate things for any kind of study or measurement was not discouraged during my childhood."

What I love about this essay is that it goes from odd to odder. We are in a world populated by bryologists, by taxidermists, in which a lot of strange things can happen quickly, and which nothing seems strange while it's happening (key technique).

The essay goes on to recount a conversation with the writer's brother in which he, when hearing about the dead bird in the freezer, gets giddy about the possibility of getting the bird stuffed. The essay then extends to a set of longer interactions with taxidermists, the legal trouble with getting a migratory bird stuffed (hint: it's illegal), the author's volunteering with the Audobon Society's Project Safe Flight team to go help them collect dead birds, more conversations with hunters and taxidermists, a discussion of the process of gutting and stuffing birds, ending up with a great scene visiting Cornell University's Museum of Vertebrates. The subject matter and devotion to that subject matter is partly what makes this thing, er, fly, along with the solid sentencing throughout.

This is my favorite essay in this particular issue of Fourth Genre, which is on the whole a nice diversion from the previous aesthetic direction of the journal. I can't imagine Jenny Boully's essay, for instance, appearing in Fourth Genre until the editorial mantle recently shifted to Marcia Aldrich. I'm glad for this. This is a good piece, both Jenny's and Sarah's, and a little more expansive view of nonfiction on the whole. The issue in general is solid, but this one's my favorite of the bunch (close second: Jenny Boully's; there's also a good review of Jenny Boully's essaywork which is worth the read, both review and her work, if you're unfamiliar).

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